Sundance Channel // R // $24.99 // June 3, 2003
Review by Don Houston | posted June 18, 2003
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Movie: Coming of age movies often follow a predictable pattern. First, you are introduced to the lead characters. Second, you see what they want out of life-be it going to college, a particular bed buddy, or some other seemingly unattainable goal. Lastly, they get the object of their desire. Some of the time, the pattern is a bit more obscure but it's a standard procedure. One of the reasons so many movie goer's like this type of movie is the inherent formula-it's comfortable to watch, no matter how routine or "by the numbers" it is. Well, in a small independent movie that breaks the mold, Swimming, Director and co-writer Robert J. Siegel, proves formulas were made to be broken.

The movie looks at a young homely gal, Frankie (played in stoic manner by Lauren Ambrose), who is at that age where she's trying to figure out her place in life on her own terms. Her parents left her and her much older brother the family burger stand and family home when they retired (and left the area). The setting is one of those tourist trap beach towns (ostensibly Myrtle Beach, S.C.) that gets busy during the summer, and is very slow the rest of the year. Money is tight but they make a living. Their lives are on auto-pilot, with little time or energy for personal reflection.

This summer is different somehow. A promiscuous drifter arrives, looking for a job in the diner. Further, she weaves her way into Frankie's tight circle of friends, with mixed results on the status quo. Another drifter, a hippie male that sells tie dyed shirts, treats Frankie as though her looks don't matter (apparently a first in her life). As Frankie searches for which one of these two she wants, if either of them, she confronts her ties to the diner, her family, and her long time friend, not knowing if she wants any of it. Being trapped in a small town by circumstances outside of her control prevents her growth and the movie looks closely at this.

Okay, the movie provides us with the first two ingredients for the formula discussed earlier. The third is missing and I think that's part of the point here. Will Frankie chose to stay in her limited surroundings? Will she run off with one of the two drifters? Will she define who she is on her own terms, refusing to succumb to established societal norms? Some of it is left open for the viewer to interject their own ideas. Some of it is laid out quite clearly. The ending result for me was that I thought the director might've narrowed it down a bit but in general, succeeded with this thin slice of small-town life

The acting was decent and the situations were at once typical for the scenario provided and unique in how it's handled. The humor the characters face is that which any of us might've encountered and I think much of the story made deeper, if somewhat obscure, sense to me on a couple of levels. Aside from Ambrose's performance, the best supporting cast member would clearly be her trailer trash best friend, played by Jennifer Dundas. I'd like to see a spin-off of her character were a sequel to be made.

I liked this one each time I watched it although I'd be lying if I said it provided any answers to life's basic questions. That it covers familiar territory with a fresh look was enough for me to suggest it as a Rental and some people might consider it worth buying. My biggest complaint would be that there appeared to be too many writers on this one and a bit tighter editing or directing job might've made it more concise.

Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio widescreen. For the most part, it was clear (for it's low budget status) with some softly focused spots and weaker than average lighting at times. The fleshtones and other colors weren't perfect but not that far off.The dvd transfer was decent and only once in awhile did print flaws appear noticeable.

Sound: The sound was presented in stereo with minimal separation between the channels. The vocals and music were solid if nothing overly special.

Extras: There was a short "Afterthought" by the director, a professor in film. A short on the Sundance as told with snapshots and a narration. Lastly, there was a couple of deleted scenes that were pretty good.

Final Thoughts: The movie gives you a lot to think about and lets you decide for yourself where it went from the ending. Done properly, this type of movie is very powerful in what it can do for a viewer. While this one had flaws, it was a worth checking out. Rent it first though.

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